The Bridges of Ross is Ireland's Premier League Seawatching Location, Possibly even Europe's, and for very good reason. It's proximity to an airport (Shannon), its accessibility by car, it's capacity for large groups, and abundant accommodation give it all the necessary factors for comfortable observation of sea-birds. However it is its geography which is its real outstanding character. Set on the long arm of Clare county, birds moving out of Galway bay, or migrating down through the Aran islands, find themselves confronted by a long peninsular headland, Loop head. And must navigate by the Bridges of Ross in order to avoid slamming into the cliffs or taking an unplanned over land trip.
The elevation at the bridges is just right for viewing of both storm petrels and shearwaters alike.
It is easily reached from Shannon Airport, simply drive north to Ennis, and then follow signs for Kilrush and Kilkee. Once in Killkee follow signs for Kilbaha or Loop Head.
On the way out to Kilbaha, after going through the small village of Ross, look for a narrow right Y junction, for the Bridges of Ross. Another mile or so down is a signposted lane to the car park of the Bridges of Ross.
Alternatively, if you miss the first turn off the main road, carry on into Kilbaha, take the right turn immediately at the Lighthouse bar and inn, carry on for a mile where the road becomes a T-junction, take the right turn and look for the signposted lane to the Bridges of Ross to the left, just after a small stony bay.
Once in the car park, follow the footpath out keeping the fence to some fields on your left until you reach the cliff edges, go right and there is a semi circular hollow overlooking a small inlet. Sit down and start scanning! Rarities seen here include near annual Fea's Petrel and Little Shearwater, Wilson's petrel, and rarer records include Sooty Tern, Black Browed Albatross, and Swinhoes Petrel.
Storm petrels can come by here VERY close in the right conditions, so keep a constant eye on various ranges out to sea! The birds are there for the taking!
The most birder frequented accommodation is the Lighthouse Inn, in Kilbaha.
Close, reasonable cost, and serves meals throughout the day, including breakfast for non-guests. A warm and friendly bar, they are well used to putting the weather forecast on for birders at 9.30, and listening with interest to see if we cheer or groan at the result.
Other locations for food are nearby Keatings bar, or if you want a real treat, the Long Dock Pub in Carrigaholt village 4km to the east. (The seafood here is amazing, but food is significantly more expensive than the Lighthouse.)
Numerous bed and Breakfasts are also around the area on the road back to Kilkee, and in Kilkee itself there are many, but obviously birders want to be as close as possible to the Bridges to maximise time in the field.
The British August Bank Holiday has become an annual pilgrimage to the Bridges for many who travel believing they are guaranteed a Fea's petrel on these dates (I saw two here in late July 2007, so realistically ANY date can produce the goods), however this makes getting a place to stay that much more difficult and places can fill up very fast. Pre booking for these dates is a good idea. If you book, and cant make it, please inform the various establishments. There is always someone who has travelled on spec and would be keen to get a cancellation....actually quite often that's me!!
The main season for the Bridges is undoubtedly August. But this was not always so, with Irish birders most often attending in the past during September North Westerlies for Skuas, Sabine's gulls and Leaches petrels, particularly Long Tailed Skuas.
My first visit was in September a decade ago when we had a large count of Long Tailed Skuas go through. Visiting birders should bare in mind, that a North westerly here can be good for sea-bird passage right into October.
Indeed even winter sea-watching could be productive here if the effort was made.